Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States, (1945-1953), observed, “I remember when I first came to Washington. For the first six months you wonder how the hell you ever got here. For the next six months you wonder how the hell did the rest of them ever get here.”
Barack Obama has just finished the first six months of his four-year Presidential term. Electronic and print media have been dissecting his proposals and analyzing his strengths and weaknesses. According to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, Obama ends his first six-months with a 55% public approval rating. (George W. Bush had a 57% approval rating after six months.) This, “after-six-months” approval rating, places Obama among the lowest three-rated Presidents who have served since 1945.
The President’s job approval rating is down.
A good part of this slippage can be attributed to his ceding center stage on healthcare reform to his critics. Chaste fiscal Conservatives, who have finally found a dollar they don’t like to spend, are screaming about costs. On a 24/7 basis they warn that single-payer healthcare will bankrupt the nation. Cheering them on are those who want the President to fail – regardless. Without reservation or restraint, Republicans are yelling about “socialized medicine” pointing to trillions of dollar signs as proof. For some it’s not about the money, it’s strictly politics. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint confessed, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”
Cable blusterer Joe Scarborough, a Fox News wannabe, receives this week’s “I-can-talk-louder-and-faster-than-you” crown for stridently deciding that “Obama’s debt will reach 23 trillion dollars.” His morning partner, the attractive Mika Brzezinski, daughter of political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski, is revealing herself to be Mata Hari-esque; exotic name and all. Mika juices-up Joe, clinging to his elbow, displaying a certain sniffy intelligence as she administers cobra-like Conservative strikes. Joe charms like a dowdy Southern gentleman with continual heartburn while Mika has runway-walk sizzle. MSNBC need to give Joe something Fox-like by branding this flirty cable dalliance an “Unbalanced Affair.”
Things look bleak.
Then, this past week, Obama took to the airwaves, vowing to use the power of the Presidential bully-pulpit to outline and fight for healthcare reform. He appeared with Meredith Viera on NBC’s Today Show in an unconvincing and unheated “Softball Interview.” He fired a meaningful warning shot when he rallied loyal, election-hardened, Progressive bloggers on a White House conference call. Said the President, “It is important just to keep the pressure on members of Congress because what happens is there is a default position of inertia here in Washington. And pushing against that, making sure that people feel that the desperation that ordinary families are feeling all across the country, every single day, when they are worrying about whether they can pay their premiums or not… People have to feel that in a visceral way. And you guys can help deliver that better than just about anybody.”
At mid-week he held his fourth nationally televised press conference. Unfortunately, he only came out sort-of-swinging – professorial chops on display and turning one political cheek and then the other. He obviously knows things we don’t know. Even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi must know something as she said, “We have the votes” in the House.
Facing Scarborough and Brzezinski the morning after the President’s press conference, Senate Banking Committee Chair Evan Bayh of Indiana, traced the same Presidential steps in both manner and statement of facts, needs and strategy. What does he know?
If cool is the new hot, the Democrats win hands down.
As it turns out, those needing the most persuasion and Presidential bullying, are Democrats. So-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, to be exact. While the Blue Dog Coalition in the House boasts 51 members, from “every region of the country,” seven come from California: Joe Baca, Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, Jane Harman, Loretta Sanchez, Adam Schiff, and Mike Thompson. Baron Hill (Ind.), a Blue Dog policy co-chair who sits on the Energy Committee, said, “The Speaker was well-intended, but I don’t think the votes are there now.”
There is also a loose Senate assemblage of Almost-Blue Dogs: Mark Pryor (Ark.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Tom Carper (Del.) Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
Further, it doesn’t help that the three Senators receiving the most healthcare industry money is newly-minted Democrat Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania, Arkansas’ Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, and bumbling Independent/Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. The nine Republican Senators, sitting on the Senate Finance Committee, who have each signed a letter against public healthcare, have collectively taken $17.7 million from insurance and health care interests, over their careers. This committee is actively engaged in debating health care reform. The nine signers include Senators Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Jon Kyl, Jim Bunning, Mike Crapo, Pat Roberts, John Ensign, Mike Enzi, and John Cornyn. Senator Olympia Snowe was the committee’s only Republican Senator not to sign.
Our intelligent, thoughtful, reach-across-the-aisle President needs to swing a stronger bullying-club!
Healthcare has proven to be a polarizing topic – even though the public overwhelmingly voices support. According to the Huffington Post, the latest “USA Today/Gallup poll finds wide public support for overhauling health care this year. There is, however, concern about its high costs and the implications for the country…56% favor a bill, 33% oppose it, and 12% do not feel strongly either way. Just over half say controlling costs should be its priority…To finance the bill, 61% believe employers who do not provide insurance should pay a fee. 58% say the wealthy should pay higher taxes to help fund it.”
As Susan Page of USA TODAY observed, “And, while a president’s standing after his first six months in office doesn’t forecast whether he’ll have a successful four-year term, but it does signal how much political juice he’ll have for his second six months in office.”
That’s what history teaches.